I loved reading The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein (thoughts here), mostly for its beautiful and flowing language, so I thought I’d next pick up The Hobbit, which is a children’s story and takes place chronologically before The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it. I found the story tedious and the writing stilted.
Bilbo Baggins is not any special Hobbit. He likes to stay in his hobbit hole and eat breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then one day, Gandalf appears at his door and tells him he’s going on an adventure: Bilbo is to be the burglar for a team of dwarves. He is to help rob a cave full of jewels from a ferocious dragon!
Somehow Bilbo begins this adventure, against his will. Before he knows it, Hobbiton is far behind him and he meets elves and men and goblins and spiders. His life will never be the same!
I struggle with adventure stories. I feel like the main characters do foolish things to get into trouble and then conveniently they are rescued, only to get into trouble in the next chapter. But for those who are looking for adventure, The Hobbit is full of it! The crew is attacked by trolls, surprised by goblins, caught in a spider’s net, and otherwise in Grave Peril on a regular basis. Bilbo even becomes the one who rescues the dwarves on many occasions. This is a story of heroes in an amazing fantasy world.
Question for those who have read The Hobbit (SPOILER; highlight to read): Why did Bilbo betray Thorin by taking the jewel to the waiting army? That just seemed so sneaky and wrong and I really disliked him. Also, why was Gandalf a part of a robbery anyway? Doesn’t he have better things to do? Why encourage Bilbo to be a robber? I just don’t understand the significance of it all, and I wondered why I was cheering for these people. At least in The Lord of the Rings (as I watched in the movies) the general fight is against the wicked Eye. We could tell that was bad.
In some respects, the writing of The Hobbit reminded me of The Wind in the Willows: there were moments of beautiful writing, and yet overall, it felt a bit too stiff and formal. That said, I still liked it much better than The Wind in the Willows (which I reviewed here).
I made the mistake of reading all of The Hobbit aloud to my son, which for me made it all the longer as I stumbled over awkward phrasings and long-winded sentences. I wonder if the 1930s text is “awkward” for children, but it may just be my unfamiliarity with fantasy stories that made it all the harder for me.
The Bottom Line
The Hobbit is about a young underdog coming to the rescue – time and time again. The Hobbit is about adventure. The Hobbit is a fantasy in which the good guys win. I highly suggest reading The Hobbit if you are a child. My husband read it in third grade and loved it; he doesn’t recall it being awkward reading. Others throughout the blogosphere have mentioned fond memories of reading The Hobbit as a child.
As an adult, it seriously did not do anything for me; I was bored.
Now I’m really not excited to read The Lord of the Rings, although I’m still determined to do it someday.
One final note: I read a copy with beautiful color illustrations by Alan Lee. I highly recommend that version!
What about you? Did you like reading The Hobbit? What age were you when you (first) read it? Was the writing style awkward to you as a child?
If you have reviewed The Hobbit on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.